Violence trauma expert cites CPS understaffing as community grapples with boy’s death

Anthony Zenkus says he has seen a fair share of child abuse cases, but nothing like the case of 8-year-old Thomas Valva.

News 12 Staff

Jan 26, 2020, 10:10 PM

Updated 1,579 days ago


 Anthony Zenkus says he has seen a fair share of child abuse cases, but nothing like the case of 8-year-old Thomas Valva.
As an Adelphi professor of social work and family violence trauma expert for years, he says the death of the Center Moriches boy has him angered and wondering what went wrong.
Zenkus says one of the problems is that the Department of Child Protective Services is understaffed.
“You've got workers with caseloads of 15 plus. You might have seven caseworkers in a unit supervised by one supervisor - that means 140 cases under one supervisor's oversight and that's a lot,” says Zenkus.
Zenkus says even judges need more training and should be better equipped with knowing the telltale signs of family violence.
The child's mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, lost custody of her kids in the divorce with her estranged husband, NYPD Officer Michael Valva, who is charged with murder in the case. Michael Valva’s fiancée, Angelina Pollina, is also charged.
Zubko-Valva told News 12 that she was extremely concerned that something bad was going to happen.
“Every time I kept telling the judge, ‘If you’re not going to remove the children they are going to die under his care and custody,’” she says.
News 12 showed Anthony Zenkus paperwork given to the network by Thomas' mother from the school district and CPS, which documents some of the alleged abuse.
Zenkus says the East Moriches School District was diligent in documenting and reporting the alleged abuse to CPS.
According to DSS, petitions for child neglect were filed in Suffolk County Family Court in 2018 and safeguards were ordered including, "Court-ordered home supervision, for a period of one year, orders of protection for the parents to refrain from harmful behaviors towards the children and mandated participation in a positive parenting program."
Zenkus says none of those measures protected Thomas.
He says investigators will comb through the case, find out if mistakes were made and what needs to improve.

More from News 12